About bloody time too!
The Crimson Horror throws the audience in at the deep end with a visitor to Madame Vastra, intrigued to learn more about mysterious deaths taking place in the idyllic-sounding factory town of Sweetville. Discovering that the Doctor is somehow imprisoned there, the Paternoster Gang hot-foot it north, complete with some amusing lines from the legendary Commander Strax.
The tone of this episode is well and truly set!
Mark Gatiss’ sixth Doctor Who script for TV – his second in this run – is a typically macabre creation, dripping with humour and Victoriana while maintaining the pace and mystery required for such a tale. That the Doctor and Clara don’t appear until 15 minutes in mark this as a “Doctor-lite” episode (and Smith certainly has plenty to do in Nightmare in Silver) but it is also Clara-lite too.
With the return of Neve McIntosh, Catrin Stewart and Dan Starkey as Silurian Madame Vastra, human Jenny Flint and Sontaran Commander Strax, the story possesses something of a spinoff feel – if not for the opening titles, we might easily be watching an episode of “The Paternoster Gang”. They effortlessly carry the mystery along until that key moment when Jenny finds the Doctor and prompts one of the most visually inventive moments in Doctor Who’s 50 years.
Saul Metzstein presents a flashback – the details of the Doctor and Clara’s adventure and capture by the insane Mrs Gillyflower – in a sepia-tinted, slightly jerky “old-style” movie, and the effect is stunning. It seems strange that a show that has been as influential as Doctor Who on designers and directors over the years has rarely been so brave, especially not since its triumphant return in 2005.
But then, the director had a big name in the cast, that of Dame Diana Rigg (not to mention her stunning daughter, Rachael Stirling, whose performance alone would have done) so he really had to pull something out of the bag for this.
Mrs Gillyflower is a typically grotesque creation. Not a million miles from Eddie Connolly (The Idiot’s Lantern), she’s just as deranged but while he wanted to instill order into his home and community, Gillyflower prefers the altogether more ambitious plan of collecting together a group of beautiful men and women to survive a self-inflicted global apocalypse, bringing an end to “evil” and “sin” (not to mention Bradford) and establishing a super-model Utopia.
The tragedy of her plan is that her daughter Ada plays no part in it, despite having been blinded in her mother’s experiments with the bizarre prehistoric leech suckling on Mrs Gillyflower’s chest, nicknamed Mr Sweet.
Yes, you did read that right.
Back in 2006 Love & Monsters drew a massive split in fandom for being new, brave and completely absurd (Peter Kay, in a loincloth. I could go on.) I had expected a similar split her, especially the way reaction is going with Series 7b, but it seems that The Crimson Horror has been particularly well-liked.
Perhaps it was the humour, with the fainting, the marvellous performance of Dame Diana Rigg (yet another of the visiting Game of Thrones cast members this season) or the suggestion that Strax is addicted to sherbert.
It might even be the typical Gatiss macabre, including the Gothic setting, the red monster Doctor, Mr Sweet itself or the industrial Yorkshire setting (more north in Doctor Who, please Mr Moffat!).
The deft touches won’t have hurt either. Storing the “chosen ones” in giant bell jars was an excellent idea, as was the empty factory, equipped with giant gramophones playing “industrial” music. There is also a lot to be said for Ada smashing hell out of Mr Sweet as opposed to the regularly used the “love conquers” trope of doom. Spare a thought also for Matt Smith’s excellent Pennine accent, and Dame Diana Rigg’s generic-but-authentic Yorkshire tones (she maht a’bin born in Donny, but thee dan tok lak that theeyer, ducks).
Although the conclusion to the story failed to live up to the early promise, The Crimson Horror can be considered one of Mark Gatiss’ best scripts for Doctor Who, up there with The Unquiet Dead. It’s just a shame things went wrong after the Doctor and Clara left 19th century Yorkshire…
Ah, the coda. She might be the boss, but Clara is so obviously owned by Artie and Angie Maitland (Kassius Carey Johnson and Eve de Leon Allen), the children she au pairs, when she returns home for a spell. Where the Doctor is off to we don’t know, but Artie and Angie have left a trap for Clara – a photo-trap, if you like, with images of her in 1974, 1983 and the 19th century proudly displayed on their laptop monitor.
Let’s not even get into the question of how they acquired them, why they were looking for photos of Clara online (www.photosofmyaupairthroughtime.com? and how did the Doctor miss it, pre-Bells of Saint John?) or why they even believe time travel is possible. The acting from the pair was far below what we’ve come to expect. It’s difficult to criticise child actors, so I won’t – I lay the blame fully at Saul Metzstein’s door who should have been able to coax more convincing delivery than the “smug teenagers” we got.
The setup for Nightmare in Silver has, therefore, been disrupted by their poor showing – let’s hope it isn’t Neil Gaiman’s weak link…